Pterosaur Sightings and Statistics

Extreme Bias Against Living Pterosaurs

Since the two ropen expeditions of 2004 (on Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea), a few biologists and non-biologists have written about investigations of pterosaur sightings . . . very few. But many of those writings have been dismissive, without any admission that the extinction concept itself should be examined. A few of their writings may have mentioned or implied that religious bias influenced those who searched for living pterosaurs and for eyewitnesses. I don’t recall any critic who mentioned or implied that those who support standard models of extinction may have bias of their own.

Survey of Biology Professors

In a recent survey of biology professors in two universities in the western USA, regarding reports of sightings of apparent pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea, the first two responses were as follows:

  1. “Pterosaurs are extinct and have been for 10s of millions of years. Period.”
  2. “I would say that I’m between 1-5” (on a scale of 0-100 for an extant pterosaur).

The survey is still in an early stage, with many other university biology faculty members needing to be included. As of late Feb 1, 2013, about 5% have responded.

Extinction Concept

Before the twenty-first century, when had anybody done any research on the pterosaur-extinction concept itself? I’ve communicated with several paleontologists, over the past nine years, but not one of them has mentioned or even hinted at the existence of any investigation of the pterosaur-extinction concept. It’s been taken for granted as an axiom for about two hundred years, and has served an apparently useful purpose; indeed, dinosaur and pterosaur extinction has been foundational to Darwin’s writings and modern standard models of biology.

My associates and I have challenged that extinction dogma for years. Those professors who have criticized out conclusions have not addressed extinction itself, preferring to dismiss us without answering that challenge. To be precise, “extinct . . . Period.”

Mathematics and Clear Thinking About Pterosaur Sightings

Let’s apply probability to the two responses of those two biologists who evaluated the possibility of the existence of a living pterosaur. The first professor gave the probability 0%; the second, about 3%. That averages 1.5%. But those two professors appear to have been completely ignorant of the detailed eyewitness sighting reports that have been analyzed over the past nine years, 128 of which have been deemed credible enough to deserve analysis.

I chose those 128 reports because each of them appeared to me to have been probably from an encounter with a living pterosaur. In other words, not one of those 128 sightings was less than 51% in probability of being from an appearance of a living pterosaur. But of course, that is my opinion, and my opinion is not highly regarded among many scientists. So what can be done?

Take the average evaluation of those two biology professors, for a start. Apply mathematically those 128 reports, but use the skeptical 1.5% rather than my own much higher estimates. The probability that none of those 128 sightings was from a living pterosaur is only about 14%. In other words, from a skeptical point of view it is about 86% likely that a living pterosaur was observed. The math is simple, when a scientific calculator is used: 98.5%^128 comes to about 14.4%.

I suggest that the skeptical point of view is based on an extreme bias in favor of the universal-extinction dogma regarding dinosaurs and pterosaurs. When that extreme bias is properly taken into consideration, the 128 sightings make it practically impossible that not one of them was an encounter with a modern living pterosaur.

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Pterosaur Sightings – Not Extinct

In Searching for Ropens, I wrote, “Since no researcher in Europe [when fossils were first being discovered] had any knowledge of living creatures similar to the fossils, it was  assumed that they were all extinct. The key word is ‘assumed.’. . if only 1% of the population of Western Europe, in the late 18th Century, had . . . [seen] living pterosaurs, the universal-pterosaur-extinction notion would never have gotten started.” (second edition, page 237)

Pterosaur Sighting in Hawaii

I looked up and saw the Pterodactyl flying (gliding) from the direction of the Koolaus

Pterosaur Wingspan

Hoaxers could not have had any major influence if they had emphasized giant sizes, for the wingspan estimates show a fairly gradual decline in numbers of sightings as the wingspan increases, beginning with a size similar to that of large birds.

Television Show on Pterosaur Sightings

I wonder what the natives think of that Western idea, what those eyewitnesses in Papua New Guinea think about the universal-pterosaur-extinction assumption.

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Why do I Believe in Live Pterosaurs?

Sometimes I get a question like, “Have you ever seen a living pterosaur?” (No I haven’t, at least through January 14, 2013.) I believe a more useful question, for all of us, is “Why do you believe in live pterosaurs?” It seems like a simple question; but a reasonable answer from me—that requires considerable explaining. I’ll try to keep it reasonably short.

Extinction Indoctrination

Over many years, I have learned for myself that in my own United States of America we are bombarded, from before kindergarten to after college, by declarations of dinosaur and pterosaur extinction, and I have also learned that the universal extinction dogma is not based on scientific testing: It’s only an assumption.

But when I have gotten into a prolonged discussion with a paleontologist, it usually results in some kind of admission, from the fossil expert, that it is possible that an extant species of pterosaur may still be around somewhere; nevertheless paleontologists in general will consider it extremely unlikely and leave the subject with no desire to investigate the eyewitness reports I have received.

How rare is the person in a Western society who believes in pterosaur extinct because of objective evaluation of two points of view! The New Britain short-tailed pterosaur, that flies in daylight in the interior of that island, could be more common.

Most non-scientists assume that all of those flying creatures are extinct because the idea is so commonly proclaimed, as if it were a scientific fact beyond doubt.

Most scientists may believe it because it is a long-standing tradition, with apparently nobody ever contradicting universal pterosaur extinction. Off hand, I know of only one scientist who has approached this subject objectively, but because he chose to believe in the literal interpretation of eyewitness reports, skeptics then assumed he was biased in his choice; some of his writings have therefore been under a pen name.

To the point, there is no scientific test for determining pterosaur extinction. (In fact there’s no scientific test for determining the extinction for any species.)

That means the idea that all species of pterosaurs are extinct, all types that have ever lived on this planet are no longer living—that idea is so extreme that it requires extreme evidence to justify generations of proclamations about extinction. No such extreme evidence has come forward.

Eyewitnesses of Pterosaurs

Modern reports of apparent pterosaurs are similar to ancient reports of flying dragons, with a critical difference: Cryptozoologists like myself (we are extremely rare) interview eyewitnesses with questions that test whether or not an actual pterosaur was observed; in ancient history, even the most objective investigators had limited knowledge of pterosaur fossils, at least compared with modern cryptozoologists who specialize in pterosaurs.

Before the close of 2012, I added more eyewitness reports to the compilation of credible reports that had been analyzed the previous year. I then analyzed the data, which came from 128 sightings from around the world. Three independent factors eliminated any potential contamination from hoaxes, with clear indications that hoaxes could not have played any significant part (few if any hoaxes were involved).

How were those sighting reports chosen? Each one I deemed likely to have been an observation of an extant pterosaur, at least more likely than not. That brings up the subject of probability.

Probability of Modern Pterosaurs

I believe beyond any reasonable doubt that some pterosaurs live in this wonderful world of ours. If I were a member of a jury in a criminal case, and had that same surety of belief, when called upon to pronounce a sentence that would result in taking the life of the accused I would not hesitate in casting my vote. That requires an explanation.

Part of the explanation, for the sake of those who prefer something more tangible than my feelings, relates to probability. The 128 sighting reports I chose because each one I deemed to be at least 51% likely to have been from observing a living pterosaur. For simplicity, what does that say for all 128 sightings? If each one was judged only 50% likely to have been a living pterosaur, what is the probability that none of them were from living pterosaurs? Practically zero.

What if a hundred of the sightings were thrown out? With 28 sightings, each with a 50% chance of being a pterosaur, what’s the chance that not one of those 28 was a sighting of a living pterosaur? Not even one chance in 100 million. That’s basic mathematics (1/2 to the power of 28).

I realize that a skeptic may declare that I am biased and incapable of making a reasonable estimate of probabilities of a sighting being from an actual pterosaur. But what if I am so biased that my 50% estimate for each sighting is actually only 5%, that an objective estimate would make it a 95% probability that a report was from some cause other than a pterosaur? Even with that extreme manipulation of my estimates, the probability that not one of the 128 reports were from any real pterosaur would be less than one chance in 500 . . . horrible odds for universal extinction of pterosaurs.

But the 50%  and 5% individual-estimates are for simplicity. I actually believe some of the sighting reports to be more than 90% probable to have been from living pterosaurs. The 1944 sighting by Duane Hodgkinson (mainland New Guinea) is one example. If all but the 8 most likely reports were eliminated, the probability that none of those 8 came from an encounter with an extant pterosaur would still be quite remote (and how could any objective scientist completely reject those 120 less-conclusive reports?).

Sample of Part of the Data

The following image shows only a small part of the data that was collected from the 128 sighting reports:

The first 24 pterosaur sighting reports, with details like probability of feathers, long tail (y/n), head crest, color, tail straight, tail flange, weather, etc

Click on the above image to see details on what information was gathered (shown in part)

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Modern Flying Dragons

“If we pursue the history of the investigation of pterosaurs . . . there is a natural link in our minds with the myths and legends of dragons.” [from the paleontology book The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs, by Peter Wellnhofer]

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Pterosaur Size

Since late 2003, I have examined many eyewitness reports of these flying creatures, and the latest compilation of data gives us a remarkable insight into wingspan estimates . . .

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Bird Carries off a Baby . . . Hoax

In Mont-Royal Park, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, a large bird of prey swoops down to pick up a small toddler who is sitting just eighteen feet or so from his mother . . . or so it appears in a video that was posted on Youtube on December 17, 2012.

The terrifying encounter never actually happened, however. The next day, an animation college in Quebec admitted that a few students had created the deception, using two computer 3D models: a bird and a baby.

As of December 29, that Youtube video had 40 million viewers, surpassing the goal of the creators of the hoax: to make a popular video. But it may have created a problem that could take some time to solve, for maybe a million viewers or so may still be unaware of the announcement that it was a hoax.

It reminds me of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938, in which many listeners in the United States heard what appeared to be a long news account of an invasion from aliens, Martians to be precise. About 6-20 Million Americans heard that broadcast, although perhaps only 15% to 25% believed that there was an invasion. That radio broadcast was a reading of a fictional story, a reading by Orson Welles.

Criticism of the Hoax Hypothesis

Soon after I brought up the subject of contradictory shadow directions in the video, I received a response from another Youtube viewer, somebody who had not yet learned about the announcement of the hoax:

“I don’t know what you mean. I’ve watched the video again and all shadows (trees, people, eagle) clearly point to the same direction. I’ve seen this happen to animals much larger than this baby was and since the video doesn’t seem fake to me. people even commented about how it was shown in a Canadian news report, but I guess you all wanna believe what you want. feel free to do so, I think it’s real until someone proves me wrong, which wouldn’t be a big deal for me. we all make errors..even eagles”

Part of what prevented that person from taking my idea seriously was my lack of details in explaining the shadows. This deserves a little explanation. Just watching through the video (at normal speed) does not help, for the viewer needs to stop where the right side of the meadow appears. Otherwise that scene flashes through our view too quickly to notice any shadows.

Another Youtuber viewer was set on the idea that there is no problem with any shadows in the video:

“Need to look again one tree is on a hill an the shadow is in the same direction as the one in the foreground,  just the hill makes it look that way. Learn a bit LOL”

I did learn something, but it was different from what that person would guess: Many Youtube viewers (including this person) do not comprehend new ideas when they read words, at least compared with when they look at images.

Problem with Shadows

still image from the Youtube video "Golden Eagle Snatches Kid" - it shows shadows

On the right side of the park, shadows fall to the left

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Shadows in middle of park

In the middle of the meadow, shadows continue to fall to the left

As the camera pans moderately far across the meadow, the shadows indicate the sun is on the right. As it gets to the part of the meadow where the “baby” is grabbed by the “eagle,” then shadows suddenly show something very different: The sun seems to be on the left.

This still image from the video shows shadows in very different directions

This frame of the video proves major tampering took place

When one frame of a standard home video shows shadows going in almost opposite directions, there is a problem. In this video, a few frames show this weird appearance of shadow contradiction.

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On the left side of meadow, shadows fall to the right

Just a little further to the left, it is obvious how the shadows fall: to the right

The shadow problem shown above add a bit of mystery still, for why would the animators have needed to combine two images of the park? I would have thought there would be no need for altering the appearance of this meadow, for they were adding two animation models onto the background, which normally requires only limited (if any) change in the background.

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Did a Bird Grab a Baby?

Other indications of hoax involve the actions or inactions of persons shown. One person walking by the scene of the apparent attack pays no attention except to look in the direction of the videographer. The mother does not even notice the large bird as it shoots towards her and her baby.

Youtube Eagle Video Hoax

The video showing a bird grabbing a baby was a hoax, a convincing imitation of a home video, a convincing portrayal of a large bird of prey, during its flight near the ground, in a park in Montreal, Canada, picking up a human child. Both bird and child were computer animation objects

Fake Bird Attacks Fake Baby

In one frame of the video, one of the bird’s wings has vanished. Also, the apparent voice of the camera operator seems off, for he says “wow” when the bird is flying in an ordinary way high up above the park, but when it flies much closer and low to the ground the camera operator says nothing.

Hornbill Bird Misidentification?

Somebody once suggested that some sighting reports of apparent pterosaurs were misidentifications of Hornbill birds. But what sightings? That skeptic made the same mistake as many other skeptics: throwing out generalizations rather than examining specific sighting reports.

Manta Ray = Desperation

I don’t accuse anybody of telling a lie or promoting somebody else’s lie through carelessness, and I don’t mention here the name of any critic of the literal, obvious interpretation of sightings of live pterosaurs; but something has been published recently, something that would make eyewitnesses appear like fools, and I will not stand by in silence. The misidentification of a Manta ray oceanic fish does not adequately explain any significant pterosaur sighting, not even one sighting that I have analyzed.

On the subject of sightings of extant pterosaurs (often called “pterodactyls” or “dinosaur birds” or “flying dinosaurs”) I have written more than any other author, to the best of my knowledge: three nonfiction books, a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal of science (CRSQ), and over a thousand blog posts and web pages. Please consider the following.

I realize that I am one of countless nonfiction authors who write on countless subjects, and that I appear to some skeptics (in Western society) to be foolish in promoting modern pterosaurs. But I have probably had more access to recent reports from the eyewitnesses (worldwide), over the past nine years, than any other person on this planet.

The writer who suggested a leaping Manta ray fish as an explanation for “many” sightings appears to write from desperation. I know from experience that some sightings of apparent pterosaurs flying over the sea have been misidentifications of Frigate birds. But leaping fish? No!

Imagine yourself as an eyewitness. You are on an island, near the coast but not on the beach. You see two apparent pterodactyls flying inland from the direction of the sea. They are flying in close formation, with slow flapping of wings, about 40-100 feet above the land. You make a quick sketch, being a talented artist, and look over the image. It shows two long-tailed pterosaurs with moderately long necks, pointed head crests, and pointed beaks. Each tail has a structure at the end, with something like hair at the tail end. Each wing has a leg-like structure with something like claws resembling feet at the end of each leg. Good! It resembles what you had observed, to the best of your memory.

Sketch by eyewitness Eskin Kuhn, a U. S. Marine in 1971

But somebody notices a similarity between the wing shape and the general shape of the Manta ray fish. You are then hit by the words of a skeptic who dismisses your sighting as a misidentification of a fish jumping out of the water. How insulting! Nonetheless, how easy it is to repudiate the skeptic’s words!

The critic says nothing about the end of the tail or any other characteristic of the sketch, except what may have some correlation to something on a Manta ray. The general wing shape is emphasized, but the skeptic’s reasoning is left naked to examination; critical illness cannot be hidden by sophistry.

Before proceeding with the postmortem of the Manta ray conjecture, let’s consider the sighting above, by the real person Eskin C. Kuhn, who has submitted his real name to be attached to his sketch. He observed the two flying creatures, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on a clear day in 1971, as they were flying together. It was not one fish jumping out of the water; it was two “pterodactyls” flying inland. It was not a Manta ray leaping five to ten feet out of the water; it was two flying creatures flying 40-100 feet high, from the direction of the sea.

Now for the post mortem:

The unnamed critic who imagines leaping Manta rays is aware of Kuhn’s sketch. In fact he uses that sketch as if evidence for his jumping fish conjecture. So why become fixated on one aspect of the sketch: the general similarity in shape to a Manta ray?

What other explanation is there than the following? The skeptic implies that Mr. Kuhn was mistaken about almost everything, but that he was correct about the general shape of the wings. How unscientific! How narrow the focus! How blind to the obvious! It would be must more reasonable to imagine that the general wing shape (resembling in some way the shape of a Manta ray) is incorrect but that at least one aspect of the “pterodactyl” appearance is correct.

To put this in a different setting, consider this: Could the Challenger Shuttle disaster of 1986 have been a misunderstanding? Could it have been just from some spectators watching a fireworks display in Jacksonville, Florida? Why pretend that the mission control center never existed? Why pretend that those astronauts were unreal? Why pretend that almost everything in reports of live pterosaurs is a misunderstanding, that the only thing correct about the reports are those few details that might resemble something about a Manta ray?

How desperate the position of any critic who would suggest a Manta ray jumping into the air as an explanation for the countless worldwide sightings of living pterosaurs! We need more clear thinking with reports of apparent living pterosaurs. How we need clear thinking!

Fear not the occasional shock of revolutionary scientific discovery. We have no need for desperation in protecting old axioms, including the extinction dogma tied to a particular origin philosophy. But that’s another subject.

Manta Ray Fish Fallacy

Drinnon tries to squeeze the general shape of the Manta ray’s body into sighting reports of pterosaurs. There is where the leaping fish falls flat.

Hornbill Bird Misidentification?

It is one thing to single out a particular sighting that may have been a Hornbill misidentification, then point out that it was not a living pterosaur. It is quite another, however, to fail to single out any particular sighting, then speculate that sightings in general are misidentifications.

Manta Rays or Modern Pterosaurs?

. . . the sighting of two apparent pterosaurs was in a CITY, not in a boat. And he saw two of the creatures flying together. That eliminates that sighting regarding Manta rays that leap out of the sea . . .

Why is it “Not Everybody Embraces Living Pterosaurs?”

Last year, the phrase came to me: “Not everybody embraces living pterosaurs.” But those unfriendly to the flying creatures, those large nocturnal non-bat-non-bird “teradactyls,” also come in a variety of human “species,” and those humans appear far from extinct.

Traditional Biologists

They shun potential embarrasment, those old professors who have followed the traditional line, that unwavering dogma of ancient universal extinction of all dinosaurs and pterosaurs. But embarrasment may be unavoidable when modern pterosaurs are officially discovered. I have communicated with two outspoken paleontologists who have tried to shoot down the living-pterosaur ideas. But both of them have stopped short of insisting that not one species of pterosaur could possibly have survived in any form resembling a pterosaur. Even paleontologists who openly oppose my work (and that of my associates) admit the theoretical possibility that I may not be 100% wrong.

Critics Who Belittle Those Who Believe in Giant Living Pterosaurs

That brings us to another human “species” of LP critic. To quote someone (I’ll call him “RMM”) who comments frequently on an online cryptozoology forum, assisted by a few other critics:

“There’s no fossil record of any ptero since 65M years. If some managed to survive, they would’ve changed beyond recognition, but they haven’t; they went extinct. No Ramphorynchus!. Again, a fact. That is why I claim that these who say to have seen pteros are liars. Or deluded.”

For many years, I have occasionally read what critics have said to dismiss those who believe the testimonies of eyewitnesses. I don’t recall any critic who has mentioned any date when any scientific test or experiment was performed that proved anything like what RMM “claims.” Adding the word “fact” to ones attack does not prove anything.

This species of critic is not satisfied at destroying an idea; they appear anxious to destroy the reputation of anyone who disagrees with them. More than once this kind of critic, on this online forum, has accused me of dishonesty for using something other than my real name, and this when those same critics use fantastic online names that must be made-up. Once, on the same forum of commentators with obviously made-up online names, I was accused of deception for using my real initials instead of my real full name. Really!

Where’s the Newspaper Headline?

This kind of skeptic simply refuses to believe anything that appears unusual but is not covered by major news media. When it comes to that critic’s own specialty or special field of study, however, news media attention is unimportant. I consider this kind of skeptic simply uninterested in the living pterosaur investigations, so the lack of news headlines makes it easy to dismiss those reports.

What is a Pterodactyl Expert?

Jonathan Whitcomb is a cryptozoologist and is a “pterodactyl expert” only in that cryptozoological sense. In the realm of paleontology, he is not an expert on pterosaur fossils.

A Live Teradactyl

The ropen of Umboi Island flies out to a reef on many nights of the month. It may have a varied diet, but the second expedition of 2004 turned up . . . that the creature carrys heavy giant clams up into the island interior to eat.

Pterosaur Extinction Revisited

Dr. Peter Wellnhofer, in his book The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs (Salamander Books, 1991) on page eleven mentions that fossilization is an exception to the general rule about what happens to organisms after death; he also mentions that this rarity of fossilization is particularly relevant to pterosaurs, for their bodies were light and fragile. I believe that this concept is generally accepted among paleontologists.

Life, not extinction, is what fossils mostly reveal

In my post of July 17, 2010, I mentioned a blog post (on Science Blogs) by the paleontologist Darren Naish, who has a special interest in pterosaurs. He said, “The fossil record convincingly demonstrates that pterosaurs became extinct . . . [by] 65 million years ago.” But he gives no line of reasoning for that declaration. In The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs, Wellnhofer makes it clear that pterosaur extinction was not an event but a long process. I believe that Naish needs to make a choice here: Accept Wellnhofer’s proposition about gradual extinction of pterosaurs or give some line of reasoning for a quick extinction of many species of pterosaurs.

I suggest we all try to use clear thinking about this idea of universal extinction, this assumption that all species of pterosaurs became extinct. Somewhere, somebody (I believe it was Naish or Glen Kuban, or someone commenting on one of their blog posts) said, “If a group of organisms are absent from the fossil record for tens of millions of years, and if there is no evidence indicating their survival across or beyond that time, they should be assumed to be extinct.” That reasoning is faulty, for too many obvious exceptions shoot it down.

Kuban has admitted the possibility of extant pterosaurs but greatly doubts it. Both Naish and Kuban have fought vigorously to extinguish any hope for living pterosaurs in modern times. But where is the reasoning for universal extinction of all species of pterosaurs?

Both Naish and Kuban seem to have been oblivious to the obvious conclusion that Wellnhofer unwittingly allowed. If only a tiny portion of pterosaur remains have been discovered as fossils, how many species may have existed of which we are unaware! Since we have no fossil evidence for the life of many species of pterosaurs, how can we come to any conclusion about any extinction of even one of those undiscovered species? Protecting the reputation of standard paleontology should not be the primary objective of paleontologists: The first priority should be to know the truth.

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For a few brief statements about pterosaur extinction (or lack thereof), see Questions and Answers.

Flying Fox fruit bat

A common but careless explanation for reports of live pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea is Flying Fox fruit bat misidentification. Why careless? Some critics just imagine a general sighting; they do not examine any particular sighting. How is this important? Consider the report by Duane Hodgkinson: Part of his description included a long tail on a featherless winged creature, a flying creature with a tail “at least” 10-15 feet long. That was no fruit bat.

Fallacy of the Flying Fox Explanation

. . . Reports of “pterodactyls” in New Guinea . . . were dismissed with the explanation that people were just observing Flying Foxes. In the early 21st Century, a web page by Glen Kuban was dedicated to repudiating the idea that pterosaurs ever lived in human times; he suggested at least some of the sightings were of fruit bats.

The fruit bat known as “Flying Fox” is quite large for a bat; some species have wingspans as great as five feet. To visitors from America and Europe, these dog-faced bats are striking.

Bat Misidentification Rather Than Pterosaur?

Don’t be mislead by old tales about bat-misidentification. Scientists and professionals in various fields are eyewitnesses of large pterosaurs, very much non-extinct pterosaurs: cryptids obviously not bats.

The Flying Fox fruit bat in captivity—it still sleeps in the daylight hours, for this kind of bat is a creature of the night: nocturnal. Some were shown in the second Indiana Jones movie.